Banagher College, Co. Offaly, Ireland, Age 16.
The Future of a Child Born Today in the Developing World
How many times have you seen an advertisement on television with a little girl carrying heavy containers of water, or maybe a boy in a plantation doing a full adult’s day of work, or a young mother struggling to find food for her new born baby? How many times have you seen the captions “a child dies every 3 seconds” or “215 million children are forced into child labour”? These stark statistics make us stop for a second, maybe look at our own children and thank God that they are healthy and educated and have a family that loves them. We know that our children will have a relatively secure future, in that they’ll have a job, make money and lead a proper life. The reality is that those shocking images on those disturbing advertisements are only a tiny fraction of the horrifying lives children born in developing countries will lead. That is not to say, of course, that every child born in the Third World is going to have a terrible future, but the majority of children will be born into a vicious cycle encompassing a tragic mix of child labour, human trafficking, little or no education, poor health and grinding poverty. We can’t even begin to imagine the lives they will lead.
A child that is born in a developing country is immediately at a disadvantage from the first gulp of air they take. in some cases, diseases such as HIV are passed on from the mother. The child is already born hungry because the mother was more than likely hungry herself. It’s like laying the foundations of a building on a flood plain. The structure will already be in danger of collapsing before you even start to build it. The future of these kids is already bleak.
The baby is immediately exposed to life threatening illnesses – illnesses that tragically are completely curable in the developed world, such as measles, diarrhoea and the common cold. A lack of clean water and proper sewage systems also contribute to child deaths. An Ethiopian child is thirty times more likely to die by their fifth birthday than a child in the western-world. And the sad thing is that three quarters of these deaths are preventable. Research shows that these lives could be saved by low-tech, cost-effective measures such as vaccines and antibiotics. Those children who do survive and manage to make it past their fifth birthday now have to face other hardships that the future will bring.
The biggest issue after health in the developing world is education. It is a well known fact that a good education is the first step to a successful and happy life. Once a good strong foundation has been laid down, there will be less cracks in the walls of the building. But a large number of children growing up in the developing world won’t even have the most basic reading, writing and mathematical skills. Millions of children don’t attend primary schools and about twice the number don’t attend secondary schools. Those children will grow up to make up the one in five adults in the developing world that cannot read or write. And what’s even more disturbing is that girls are at an even bigger disadvantage when it comes to education since there are more illiterate females than males.
Children who don’t get an education, be it because they’re female or because they can’t afford it, or both, really have no other choice but to work. “Work” here does not mean a sixteen or seventeen year old getting a part-time job at the local shop down the road because they want (want, not need) more money to be able to go out with their friends at the weekend. No, “work” here means a six or seven year old walking for miles to work full hours picking crops and carrying heavy loads to earn just two euro per day or less because they need it to survive. Unlike teenagers back home these kids have no choice but to work. They come from poor backgrounds with poor parents who send them to work because they either don’t earn enough money or they can’t work themselves because they suffer from long-term illnesses – a result of them working when they were young themselves. You can see clearly how big a problem child labour is. It’s a vicious circle with no apparent end to it. Not receiving an education blocks the child’s escape route from poverty. The progress in construction is brought to a standstill, and if the child is submitted to child labour it is likely to be abandoned altogether and the building will never be finished. Child labour stops the development of the child and significantly lowers the chances of it having a positive future.
One of the worst possible futures for a child is one in slavery. Slavery is the most horrendous, repulsive, appalling form of child labour. Thousands of children are trafficked every day to be used as slaves and are exploited in the most disgusting, disturbing ways imaginable.
Trafficked children are more prone to developing mental health problems, abusing drugs and alcohol and committing violent crimes in later life. Human trafficking not only puts a halt to the building but it tears it down, the child’s progress in life is not only stopped but is reversed: their already poor quality of life is diminished further.
Another problem faced by children in the developing world is the violent environment they are forced to grow up in. Many nations in the Third World, especially in the continent of Africa, frequently suffer devastation brought about by warring tribes or rebel groups that oppose the government. Villages are ravaged, families are torn apart, and people’s lives are destroyed. Over the last ten years two million children have been killed and another million orphaned.
One of the worst outcomes of these conflicts are the child soldiers. It is simply awful to think the only thing a child will be doing in the future is fighting and killing. Innocent little children as young as eight or younger are forced to handle weapons and kill other people. Children who are most at risk of becoming child soldiers are those who come from poor, disadvantaged families; others are kidnapped. It is estimated that over the last fifteen years ten thousand children were kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda alone.
The concerns of a child in the developing world do not revolve around birthday parties or football matches or going out at the weekend. There is no guarantee of a healthy life, but there is hope for one. There is no guarantee that you will be educated and you will have a job, but there’s hope that you will. There is no guarantee that you will not become a victim of violence and war, but there’s hope that you won’t. There’s no guarantee that the building will be completed or that if it is, it will remain intact, but there’s always hope. There’s hope that in the future a deserted town can be built up into a city full of tall proud buildings, sky-scrapers with bright shining lights beaming from every window. With help, there is hope.